Fresh air, serenity, the chance to be at one with nature. Farm work sounds idyllic, right? Then why are Australian farmers struggling to get the workers they need to harvest and pack their produce?
The reality is, lots of farm work, such as fruit and vegetable picking, is difficult and only available at certain times of the year. While being in the great outdoors is definitely a plus, it is for these reasons that many Australians are turning down the opportunity of farm work.
For some time now, the National Farmers’ Federation has called for an agriculture-specific visa (ag visa) to allow farmers to more easily recruit international workers.
A shortage in available labour, is currently costing farmers hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in lost farm productivity. Not to mention the resulting food waste. Some farmers have no choice but to leave their ripe fruit and veg to rot because they cannot get the help they need to harvest.
Of late, there has been a stop-start approach to the Government’s support for an ag-visa. The NFF has welcomed plans by the Government to improve existing visa programs to make them more fit-for-purpose for farmers. But this doesn’t go far enough.
This week, the concept of an ag-visa got a shot in the arm when Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that ‘it would happen’ under his Government (just not in time for this year’s summer fruit picking).
NFF President Fiona Simson welcomed what was a re-commitment to an ag-visa type concept.
“Mr Morrison gave agriculture the confidence it was seeking, that an agricultural visa would become a reality.
“Right now farmers across the country, are struggling to find the pickers and packers needed to harvest and prepare their summer crop for market.
“The inability to source adequate labour, is an indisputable constraint on our vision for agriculture to achieve a farmgate output value of $100 billion by 2030.”
In his address to the NFF’s National Congress, Prime Minister also reiterated his commitment, and that of Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, to working to see that more Australians take up roles in agriculture.
“Of course, the PM’s is also committed to putting Aussies first. The NFF agrees whole-heartedly,” Ms Simson said.
“Aussies must be given priority access to Aussie jobs.
“We implore farmers to answer the PM’s call, and register their vacancies with the newly-established National Harvest Labour Information Service, so that Australians can fill these positions, where they’re ready, willing and able.
“But when and where this doesn’t happen, then other solutions have to be created.
Ms Simson reiterated that time was of the essence.
“Each harvest that goes by without a solution in place to agriculture’s workforce shortages, hundreds of thousands of dollars and produce are lost.
“Whatever the solution: a dedicated agricultural visa, a regional visa or changes to existing programs to make them fit-for-purpose for farmers, the NFF is not fixed on a name or structure.
“We are only interested in ensuring our farmers’ labour woes are solved, as soon as possible.”